Refuga Insight: The first 3 months full-time on Refuga

12. January, 2015

It’s January and we are at the very beginning of a new, exciting year. This beginning of the year also marks the first 3 months, that I have worked full-time on Refuga, which I’m super happy about. I love transparent companies, so I want to share a bit of our numbers and tell a bit about what we are working on right now. Let’s called it Refuga Insight :-)

Right now I’m (Nikolaj, the founder of Refuga) is working from beautiful Morocco. I’m writing this from a roof top in a small city by the coast while the local mosque is calling for prayers. The picture in the top is from the roof top some days ago.

Building a travel agency for entrepreneurs. Read the insights after 3 months full time. CLICK TO TWEET

 

How many people actually work with the Refuga project?

I get this question now and so often. Refuga is owned by me, Nikolaj. I founded the project back in 2012 and went from only doing trips for danish entrepreneurs to also having an international focus last year.

I like to run Refuga very lean and flexible. That means no office and no full time employees. I have 4 people spread over the world, that works with me on the project, from developers and assistent. In total it sums up to 2 full time employees.

I use assistents for both planning and the work with marketing and other practical stuff. The people working with Refuga is located in India, Morocco, Kenya and Russia. Myself, I move a bit around. I’m from Denmark, has just lived for 5 months in Barcelona and currently I’m in Morocco.

 

What is the best thing that has been accomplished the last 3 months at Refuga?

I actually didn’t start to work fulltime on Refuga since late September 2014. Before that it was just a hobby project. A hobby project I was very passionate about. I’ve always seen myself as good as seeing oppourtinities and being positive about that, but I must admit it took me quite some time to believe I could do this full time. Now I’m here and the feeling is incredible.

That also means that I have only been working professionally with growing Refuga for around 3 months. Looking back on those months, I’m quite happy about what has been accomplished.

The focus has been marketing. I know that people like the Refuga trips. So far 40% of all participants has been on 2 or more Refuga trips. That’s something I’m really happy for. But If Refuga has to grow, I needed to find the right marketing channels for it. That has been the biggest task and accomplishment the last 3 months. My background is in online marketing, so it has been a task that I really enjoyed.

In those 3 months I have worked a lot with social media, focusing a bunch on Twitter and Instagram. Both has been incredible channels for Refuga. I’ve spent a lot of time on getting things right with these channels. I also spent a lot of hours working with Facebook Ads and after some time I got it tweaked, so I now exactly how to spread Refuga really cheap to new people in new countries.

Getting email newsletter signups is also something that is really important. I’ve worked a bunch on that with a good result. Before we got around 8-10 per week and now we get around 60-80. Both numbers are for periods where we don’t spend any money on marketing. When running really targeted and optimized Facebook Ads and other initatives, the number is of course higher.

I will come back to the marketing part later.

I’m also really happy that we had a great first trip to Barcelona with an international group in October 2014 and that the second trip to Italy in May 2015 sold out super fast.

 

What is the biggest challenge for Refuga right now?

So a bunch of good things is going on, but it’s not all fairytales and umbrella cocktails. Of course there is challenges.

The absolute biggest challenge for Refuga is time. I have come a long way with finding a good setup, concept and tweaking different marketing channels. I’ve something that works, but I need more time. So the solution is of course to hire people, but this is probably the real challenges. I need to learn to give things to others and not do everything myself.

So right now, the biggest challenge for Refuga, is myself. And that is actually a great feeling. I have everything to make this happen, it’s just up to myself.

I hope to give a positive update on this in the future :-)

 

What we are working on right now and the near future

The overall focus right now is doing our own trips. That is the base of Refuga, so the focus is to do a bunch of trips in 2015 and of course sell the spots for those.

Around that we are trying to build the processes, so everything can be done really smooth and so it’s possible to scale. I’m sure we can make 100 incredible Refuga trips per year, but it requires a fundation that works and that is what we are doing right now.

Building the foundation means finding the right marketing channels, finding the right people and setting up processes for each little thing. This takes time. In 2012 we did the first trip. In 2013 we had 2 trips and last year we had 4 trips and we will be aiming at doubling that this year too.

This might seem like very slow growth and it is, but when considering that this has only been a full time project for around 3 months, I’m pretty happy about it. 2015 will be the year where the fundation get tested and improved, so growth can be faster.

 

Could we actually make Refuga “open source”?

One of the things we are working a bit on right now, is a way to open up for Refuga. Inspired by the open source movement, I’ve been thinking about ways to let other people arrange Refuga trips without the hasle.

It seems like more and more people are arranging retreats and trips like Refuga do and more and more people want to go on trips like this. Could we actually use the last couple of years of experiences to make a platform where other people can easily arrange and spread the word about trips?

That’s the idea behind this landing page, which we haven’t made a lot of noise about. If you applied and haven’t received an answer, don’t worry. We will get back to you. We received a lot of applications and we are going through them.

Is it possible to build an open source travel agency for entrepreneurs? @refugacom is trying. CLICK TO TWEET

Right now we will be using this landing page and the applications to gain experiences and hopefully arrange the first trips with other organizers. These experiences will hopefully result in us doing some kind of platform where people with big networks or communities can arrange trips themselves.

It should be possible for a german SEO expert with a big personal brand to easily do a Refuga trip, where he get’s a bunch of people to a beautiful location and teach them SEO. It should be possible for small startup media sites to arrange their own trips and earn money on it, without the hassle or risk.

 

Refuga Insight… Trying to be transparent

I really, really like transparent companies, projects and founders and “Refuga Insight” is me trying to open up and tell a bit about the project. As you might have noticied this blog hasn’t really been so active. I don’t have a content strategy and I don’t prioritize this blog at all, but when I feel there is something to share I will.

If the response to these kind of posts is good, I will absolutely try to prioritize it a bit more and tell more about the ups and downs of the Refuga project.

Thanks for reading and thanks for your interest in Refuga. I really, really appreciate it.

Nikolaj Astrup Madsen I am the founder of Refuga. I'm danish, but I'm traveling the world while building Refuga and whenever I have time I go for a run in the mountains. I hope you will join me on this journey!

4 Responses to “Refuga Insight: The first 3 months full-time on Refuga”

  1. Lars says:

    Super cool – I think the plan make sense. Get the product to work, and then scale :-)

    Another great thing about Workaway is your liquidity model. You get money first, then you can pay your suppliers. That makes scaling much more easy, plus you don’t need venture capital (unless you want to scale super fast at some point).

    I look forward to the first trip in Morocco the 23th.

  2. Nikolai,

    First of all thank you so much for founding Workaway! It is such a brilliant way to connect businesses and groups with like-minded travelers who are looking to volunteer. Come April I plan to register with your services to begin looking for opportunities in Barcelonaband/or Southeast Asia. I’m very excited to see what opportunities Workaway has in store

    Sending you my best wishes,
    Virginia

  3. Sorry for the misspellings Nikolaj :-) Silly autocorrect. Hope all is well.

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